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Jane Draycott, The Kingdom – review

Jane Draycott is the reverse of a confessional poet, or even a poet whose persona is one of affable conversational candour. To me, the pleasures she offers are more deeply engaging. In all her books, many of her best poems are haunting, haunted-seeming traps for meditation, full of sidesteps, ellipses and paradoxically intense evocations of absence. The proportion of such poems seems particularly high in this one. Some are enigmatic, others more straightforward. Either way, they seize the imagination by the clarity and economy of their phrasing, the poise of their rhythms and a strange, nervy tautness that gives every … Continue Reading

Henri Michaux, translated by Jane Draycott, Storms Under the Skin: Selected poems, 1927–1954

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Jane Draycott’s “Lent” – a reading


The bailiff winds are at the door.
Alcohol and cigarettes must go. Abstain,
repent. No meat, no chocolate, no more
obsessive checking of your phone
like the pulse of a dying friend. Refrain.
No more taking photographs of pictures.
Let the world go like Michelangelo’s sculpture
made of snow that no one framed.

The house lies purged and empty. Still the winds blow.
Now give up the wilderness, the wandering.
Retreat instead to that windless winter morning
when a young man stood in the gardens of the palazzo,
lips glistening, hair shining at the nape,
before the bomb-blast of sun, not anyone’s to keep.


This poem finely illustrates … Continue Reading

Review – The Occupant by Jane Draycott

The Occupant by Jane Draycott. Carcanet Press, 64 pp. £9.99

These quietly beautiful, profoundly unsettling poems neither present puzzles nor tell you what to think; they ask you to dwell on them and in them imaginatively, letting their resonances and suggestions accumulate in your mind. This is made a pleasure by their formal grace. Phrase by phrase, they make clear, vivid, evocative statements, but as wholes they resist resolving into settled impressions or rounding off into paraphrasable conclusions. Each is charged with hidden depths, elliptical connections and startling changes of tack. They take you on long journeys in a few words. … Continue Reading

Comparison of Jane Draycott’s and Simon Armitage’s translations of Pearl

REWRITING PEARL: Translations by Jane Draycott and Simon Armitage

Pearl is an anonymous fourteenth century poem of 1212 lines, very alien in some ways, piercingly moving in others. Its speaker tells how, mourning the loss of his “pearl”, apparently his daughter, he fell asleep in the garden where he lost her before she turned two. While his body slept, his spirit journeyed to the Earthly Paradise, a landscape of miraculous beauty and light where he saw a Maiden on the far side of a river, his lost daughter, crowned, robed in white and shimmering with pearls. No longer an infant but … Continue Reading

Pearl, translated by Jane Draycott, Oxford Poets, Carcanet Press, £9.95

Jane Draycott’s Pearl is a remarkable poetic achievement and fills what has been a frustating gap in our translated literature. There is a translation by J. R. R. Tolkien, but it preserves the formal patterns of the original at the price of syntactical contortions that make it virtually unreadable as poetry, however useful as a crib. The original is a 2500 line long, fourteenth century dream poem, probably by the same author as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It narrates a dream vision in which a grieving father speaks to the soul of his dead two-year-old daughter, receives consolation … Continue Reading

Jane Draycott: the Alchemy of Light

There’s a lovely phrase in Jane Draycott’s “An Alchemy” referring to the sun’s creation of “an alternative world / inscribed in the curvings of light”. Throughout The Night Tree,Draycott herself is the great alchemist of perception, using metaphor and simile not simply to express the world but to refract and bend it into strange shapes. To an unusual extent she insists on the unlikeness of the two poles of her comparisons, and this is what gives so many of her metaphors, similes and conceits both their peculiar thrill and their unusual imaginative resilience. Of course figurative speech always depends on … Continue Reading

Jane Draycott at Manchester Central Library

Yesterday my wife and I heard Jane Draycott reading from her new collection, Over . We’d gone because I so admire the metrical skill and the strong yet subtle and delicate rhythmic and phonetic texture of The Night Tree. I was hoping to hear some of the poems from that volume (particularly “Because tonight the beach”). That didn’t happen, but it was a marvellous occasion. The new work is clearly very good and the poet’s reading style was a fine combination of a measured clarity … Continue Reading